Babylonian Horoscopes

The dates of the nativities in the earliest horoscopes to survive are at the end of the fifth century. The earliest has only been published recently, and it shows a transitional stage in the casting of horoscopes. Instead of recording the positions of planets in relation to the zodiac on the day of the birth, it is constructed around the synodic appearances of the planets surrounding the birth, and even records calendaric and meteorological data. It thus simply applies the sort of data available in the Diaries to an individual's birth, in this case datable to 13 January 410 BCE.

Month Tebetu, the 24th, toward morning of the 25th, year 13 of Darius [II], the child was born. Month Kislimu around the 15th, Mercury behind [=east of] Gemini, first visibility in the east. Month Tebetu: Tebetu 9 solstice; the 26th [last lunar visibility before sunrise]; Month Sabatu: Sabatu dense clouds, around the 2nd Mercury in Capricorn last visibility in the east. Sabatu 14 Venus last visibility in the east in front of Aquarius; the year had an intercalary month Addaru. Month Tasritu, the 22nd, Jupiter 2nd stationary point in front of Aquarius; around month Addaru, the 2nd, last visibility in Pisces. Month Du'uzu, the 30th, Saturn first visibility in Cancer, high and faint; around the 26th [ideal] first visibility; Month Kislimu, the 7th, first stationary point, Month Tebetu the 17th, opposition. [The year had] an intercalary month Addaru.11

As is the case with most Greek horoscopes preserved on papyrus (as opposed to those found in astrological treatises), there is no interpretation. There is the bare minimum of interpretation in the other Babylonian horoscope cast for a birth only a short time later, on 29 April 410 BCE, but here we have for the first time the positions of the planets on the day:

Month [?] Nisan[?], night[?] of the 14th[?]...son of Shumausur, son of Shuma-iddina, descendant of Deke, was born. At that time the Moon was below the horn of the Scorpion, Jupiter in Pisces, Venus in Taurus, Saturn in Cancer, Mars in Gemini. Mercury, which had set [for the last time], was [still]in[visible]. Month Nisan, the 1st [day of which followed the 30th day of the preceding month], [the new crescent having been visible for] 28 [US], [the duration of visibility of the Moon after sunrise on] the 14[?]th was 4,40[?] [US]; the 27th was the-day-when-the-moon-appeared-for-the-last time. [Things?] will be good before you. Month Du'uz, year 12, [ye]ar(?) 8...12

Since the first horoscope had not been published, the editor of this one doubted the evidence of his computation, since most Babylonian horoscopes could be dated to the period of the Seleucid dynasty which succeeded to this part of Alexander the Great's empire in 312 BCE. Now, however, that a fifth- or early fourth-century date is confirmed, it seems difficult to justify the old view that the Greeks could have invented the casting of nativities. Certainly in Babylon the conditions were ideal for such a practice to be started, since, as we have seen, there had long been an active pursuit of a system for predicting the future from celestial events, there had equally long been systems for producing predictions for individuals, and the zodiac had recently been invented. Moreover, the earliest surviving Greek horoscope (found in a literary source) was only cast for a birth in 72 BCE (see below).

A corpus of the thirty-two Babylonian horoscopes now found is being prepared, and already it is possible to see both continuity with Babylonian tradition, and anticipation of developments of astrology previously assigned to the Hellenistic world. The continuity with tradition is visible in the closeness of the horoscope data to the astronomical texts, in particular to those known as 'almanacs'. Furthermore, where interpretations are given, they are clearly reminiscent of predictions for individuals in the omen-literature. Just as it is predicted in that literature, for instance, that a man with a mark(?) above his pubis will be powerful in relationship to his wife, or a man dreaming that someone gives him a seal will have a son,13 so the horoscope interpretations proceed to discuss in similar style the native's family, fortune and so on. This closeness to the omen-literature is clearest in a horoscope which offers an interpretation of each datum, cast for 3 June 235 BCE:

Year 77 [of the Seleucid Era, month] Siman, [from?] the 4th [day until? some? time?] in the last part of the night off?] the fifth [day], Aristocrates was born. That day, Moon in Leo. Sun in 12;30° in Gemini. The Moon set its face from the middle towards the top; [the relevant omen reads:] 'If, from the middle towards the top, it [i.e. the Moon] sets its face, [there will ensue] destruction.' 18 degrees Sagittarius. The place of Jupiter [means]: [his life? will be] regular, well; he will become rich, he will grow old, [his] days will be numerous [literally, long]. Venus in 4 degrees Taurus. The place of Venus [means]:

Wherever he may go, it will be favourable [for him]; he will have sons and daughters. Mercury in Gemini with the Sun. The place of Mercury [means]: the brave one will be first in rank, he will be more important than his brothers,... Saturn; 6 degrees Cancer. Mars: 24 degrees Cancer.the 22nd and 23rd of each month.14

(Here the name of the native is Greek; though it may not be a sign of ethnic origin, it does suggest a citizen of one of the foundations left by Alexander's conquest. There is another nativity of a man with a Greek name in the corpus.) Another horoscope, for 4 April 263 BCE sets out the predictions in a mass at the end, but seems to conform to the pattern of earlier single-omen literature:

.was born.,.love[?]...they made. He will be lacking in wealth. His food will not suffice for his hunger[?]. The wealth he had in his youth[?] will not [stay]. His days will be long. His wife whom people will seduce in his presence will...[or; his wife, in whose presence people will overpower him, will bring it about.] He will have.s and women. He will see profit. Between [among or along?] the roads upon wealth he will...15

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